Source: Eliade on When the Sacred Manifests Itself

(Opening introduction remarks on Rudolf Otto’s Das Heilige (The Sacred) published in 1917):

“… Otto undertook to analyze the modalities of the religious experience…. Passing over the rational and speculative side of religion, he concentrated chiefly on it’s irrational aspect. For Otto had read Luther and had understood what the ‘living God’ meant to a believer. … It was a terrible power, manifested in the divine wrath. … He finds the feeling of terror before the sacred, before the awe inspiring mystery (mysterium tremendum), the majesty (majestas) that emanates an overwhelming superiority of power; he finds religious fear before the fascinating mystery (mysterium fascinans) in which perfect fullness of being flowers. Otto characterizes all these experiences as numinous (from Latin numen, God), for they are induced by the revelation of an aspect of divine power. The numinous presents itself as something ‘wholly other’, (ganz andere), something basically and totally different. It is like nothing human or cosmic; confronted with it, man senses his profound nothingness, feels that he is only a creature…

WHEN THE SACRED MANIFESTS ITSELF

Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane. To designate the act of manifestation of the sacred, we have proposed the term hierophany. It is a fitting term, because it does not imply anything further; it expresses no more than is implicit in its etymological content, i.e., that something sacred shows itself to us. …

… For many human beings, the sacred can be manifested in stones or trees, for example. But as we shall soon see, what is involved is not a veneration of the stone in itself, a cult of the tree in itself. The sacred tree, the sacred stone are not adored as stone or tree; They are worshiped precisely because they are hierophanies, because they show something that is no longer stone or tree but the sacred, the ganz andere.

It is impossible to over emphasize the paradox represented by every hierophany, even the most elementary. By manifesting the sacred, any object becomes something else, yet it continues to remain itself, for it continues to participate in its surrounding cosmic milieu. A sacred stone remains a stone; apparently (or, more precisely, from the profane point of view), nothing distinguishes it from all other stones. But for those to whom a stone reveals itself as sacred, it’s immediate reality is transmuted into a supernatural reality. In other words, for those who have a religious experience all nature is capable of revealing itself as cosmic sacrality. The cosmos in its entirety can become a hierophany.

The man of the archaic societies tends to live as much as possible in the sacred or in close proximity to consecrated objects. The tendency is perfectly understandable, because, for primitives as for the man of all pre-modern societies, the sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis, to reality. The sacred is saturated with being. Sacred power means reality and at the same time enduringness and efficacity. The polarity sacred – profane is often expressed as an opposition between real and unreal or pseudo-real. … Thus it is easy to understand that religious man deeply desires to be, to participate in reality, to be saturated with power.

Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred And The Profane – The Nature of Religion, 1957, pp. 8-13.

One Comment on “Source: Eliade on When the Sacred Manifests Itself”


  1. […] observation on the nature of sacred space was very  powerful when I first heard Robert Moore say it in the early 1990’s and continues […]


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